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John RawlsDebating the Major Questions$
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Jon Mandle and Sarah Roberts-Cady

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780190859213

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190859213.001.0001

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The “Focusing Illusion” of Rawlsian Ideal Theory

The “Focusing Illusion” of Rawlsian Ideal Theory

(p.61) 3 The “Focusing Illusion” of Rawlsian Ideal Theory
John Rawls

Colin Farrelly

Oxford University Press

In A Theory of Justice John Rawls constructed and defended an abstract account of distributive justice founded upon hypothetical theoretical devices like the original position and veil of ignorance, the principle of maximin, and conceptual analyses of equality of opportunities. Such a methodology places a premium on abstract hypotheticals (vs. the actual history of injustice), and idealizations that involve making claims that are actually false, in order to simplify an argument. This chapter critically examines the idealizations employed by Rawls’s original theory of justice. It argues that Rawlsian ideal theory is inherently flawed because Rawls’s idealizations make our normative theorizing prone to the valuation distortions that arise in what psychologists call a “focusing illusion.”

Keywords:   John Rawls, ideal theory, nonideal theory, focusing illusion, idealization, intuitionism, utilitarianism, priority rules

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